It is still surprising how careless people are with their finished written work. If we present neat high-quality and well written documents, letters, reports and proposals, we want to send a message to the reader that our organisation has a high self-image and cares about delivering a quality customer service.
A commissioning editor of a national newspaper told me she was continually surprised by people pitching stories for publication without even checking they had her name right. Her response was why should I trust you to research and write a piece for me if you are so poor at checking out the facts about me.
When we find errors in other people’s writing, we tend to focus on those rather than the message. Imagine how far a proposal to carry out consultancy work got when a hapless consultancy managed to describe Whatson Dairies as Whatson Diaries on the front cover!
Editing your writing should always come after you have written your document not during it. For example when writing your proposal you are more likely to be using your creative side – free thoughts and ideas flowing on to the page. Your editing brain is logical and wants to seek out mistakes, typos, grammar errors, spelling etc. Neither side works effectively if they try to work together.
Proof reading is easier with a fresh eye. If possible you should set your document aside for a day or two before checking it. This helps to separate the two key tasks of logical activity using the left brain and your creative flow performed by the right brain.
First check the sentence structure. 18 to 24 words in a sentence is more than enough and makes reading easier. You can test the length by reading it aloud. If you need to draw breath before the end it’s too long. Sentences are used most effectively when there is one main point per sentence rather than two or three. Long sentences take longer to digest for the average reader.
Avoid redundancy and repetition and leave out unnecessary words. For example there is no need for planning to be accompanied by ‘forward’ or ‘proactive’ such as forward planning. Be aware of ‘past’ experience or ‘other’ alternatives. Is there any other kind? And finally remember there are in the English language a number or words which sound the same but are spelt differently and mean different things.
Set out in short paragraphs to give visual as well as mental breaks to the reader. You should have one key point per paragraph and each paragraph should be made up of at least two sentences.
Check out word usage mistakes. There are a number of commonly confused words which make a nonsense of your writing if you get it wrong. Words like principle and principal, complimentary and complementary and borders and boarders.
Check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. If the same things come up regularly make a list of the correct words to keep by you when you are checking. Make sure your punctuation helps the reader to make sense of your writing.
Hunt for for typing errors. A useful technique is to read each sentence from right to left. This allows the brain to concentrate on the shape and letters not on the content and what it expects to see. Don’t just rely on spellchecker however effective it seems. This little poem should remind you of the pitfalls!
I have spelling checker. It came with my PC.
It plainly marks four my revue mistakes I cannot sea
I’ve run this poem threw it. I’m sure your pleased to no
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh. My checker told me sew
If you are not too sure of your knowledge of grammar buy yourself What Not to Write ISBN 0955279801. It is the perfect book to keep beside you when you are writing any business documents. Or order from me: email@example.com £5.00 plus P and P.
More on writing for business in the Useful Guide to Report Writing written by Charlotte Mannion and published by Pansophix